The Right By Civilization

[1]    In this section of this chapter, Irving criticizes the European settlers’ attempts at civilizingthe Native American Indians.  He speaks of the harsh treatments and unfair cruelties that these people faced in an attempt to make them conform to European tradition.  While most Europeans thought that they were helping the Natives out by trying to turn them from so-called savages into human beings, Irving explains how the Europeans greatly erred in trying to accomplish this.  The methods utilized by the Europeans to civilize the Natives and the end results of these attempts are all examined and critiqued by Irving in this section.  Irving writes of the virtuous ways in which the Europeans tried to make the natives conform in an ironic way, one in which the reader knows that he is criticizing the methods utilized by the Europeans.

[2]    Irving begins by telling of the longstanding European belief that when they discovered America, the Natives were living in a “lamentable state” (13).  Due to the state in which they were found, Irving says that the Europeans soon went to work to improve the state in which the Natives lived.  Included among the many new “comforts of life” (13) that the Europeans introduced are gin, rum, brandy, and medications for illnesses.  Alcohol hardly seems like a comfort of life that one culture should be introducing to another.  It leads to fighting, stealing, killing, and also alcoholism, which many natives currently struggle with.  It is also common knowledge that the illnesses the Natives suffered from were ones which the settlers brought over from the European countries.  It does not seem that these comforts the Europeans brought over were very helpful to the Native Americans.  Irving goes on to say in an ironic way that the comforts the Europeans introduced improved the Natives’ lives so much that they soon wanted these items because they brought them happiness.  However, one knows that Irving is being sarcastic here because comforts of life that lead to only negative things happening are never good for one society to be introducing to another.

[3]    The one aspect that most influenced the indigenous peoples of America was the attempt to convert them to Catholicism.  According to Irving, it was horrifying for the Europeans to see the devilish ways in which the savages went about their lives, even though they never stole and were “frugal, continent, and faithful to their word” (14).   However, the methods they used were much more forceful than just trying to get them to convert.  The Europeans tried to convert them because they thought the natives had no God, but how were they to know that when they took no time to learn about the native culture?  It is not safe to make assumptions about someone else’s culture when one has not taken the time to get to know it.  Therefore the Europeans should have found out if the natives had a religion before forcing a new one on them, one which they did not want to embrace.

[4]    Even though the Natives resisted conversion, Irving says that the Europeans were kind-hearted and patient enough to stick with it and tried to bring eternal salvation to these people.  However, one knows that Irving is writing sarcastically here because it was not long before the Europeans began beating and killing the natives in order to convert them.  But, no, he writes, the Natives would still not allow themselves to be shown the light, so the Europeans were left with no other choice but to purify “ them by fire and sword, by stake and faggot” (15).  Any person in his or her right mind should realize Irving’s point here that no religion should be left with no options but to kill a race of people.  When they are left with this for a last resort, they are the ones who need to be shown the light of God.  It seems more like the Europeans should have undergone a religious conversion to better themselves.  Irving states that after only a few years, only one-fifth of the non-Christians were left in America.  However, this is only because many of the natives were brutally killed or died from European illnesses.  The Europeans did not convert them; instead, they murdered the people whom they were trying to make conform.

[5]    Among the many “new and useful” habits the savage natives picked up from their contact with the civilized Europeans are mastering the arts of lying, cheating, stealing, gambling, quarreling, and slitting each other’s throats.  Obviously the Europeans’ influence was positive if the natives picked up all of those helpful facets of life!  These aspects of life are far from being helpful; instead, they are often the cause of the collapse of a culture.  According to Irving, the natives were so skilled in these aspects that they soon become superior to the Europeans in these fields.  Everyone knows how adept the Europeans were at these skills, so for the natives to be superior to them, it must not have been to beneficial to their culture.  As a matter of fact, these were what helped to lead to the downfall of a once proud culture.

[6]    Irving then gets to his main point.  He states that what the Native Americans gave to the Europeans was very small in comparison to what the Europeans in return gave to them.  However, it is easy to see Irving’s ironic tone here because what the natives gave to the Europeans helped them prosper, and what the Europeans gave to the natives caused the downfall of their civilization.  He states that in order for the Natives to be civilized, the Europeans were forced to burn them out of their homes and take their possessions and land.  However, one knows that patience does a lot more to get one to understand another’s point of view than does violence.  He finishes by stating that the small amount of land the Europeans received paled in comparison to the “glorious inheritance in the kingdom of heaven” that the natives received (17).  However, who knows if the natives every saw this light.  They were chased from their homes, beaten, raped, and killed--all because they were different than their fellow human-beings from Europe.